Altered Beast (Switch): COMPLETED!

As it’s Easter it makes sense to play a game about a man who is resurrected.

And that’s the best thing to say about Altered Beast. We all know what a bad game it is. It’s even worse than The Story of Thor. It hasn’t improved with time and was never any good to begin with.

I can’t be bothered writing any more about it.

The Story of Thor (Switch): COMPLETED!

Which Norse god bit his tongue? Thor. Note: the game is not about Norse gods.

Let me start this post with a couple of points. Number 1, it’s called The Story of Thor even though Mega Drive Classics calls it Beyond Oasis. I’m aware it’s called that in the US, but this is MEGA DRIVE Classics, not GENESIS Classics. Number 2, it is Not A Good Game.

Oh sure, it looks nice with its big sprites and Link to the Past-like overworld. It’s sort of clever with its four special spirits you can summon (once you’ve collected them all, at least). It also has some really impressive looking bosses. But, sadly, everything else is rubbish. The combat is woeful with only four directional attacks when eight are really needed, and it’s made worse by the terrible collision detection. The sprites being huge means screens are cramped with both a small viewport and too many baddies squashed up together. I suspect the animation suffers too, with some creatures having hardly any frames.

The Little Shop of Horrors “spirit” is called Bow, for no sensible reason.

Your inventory is too small, and success on some parts of the game rely on having certain weapons. The problem is, you can only hold so many and each has a limited use. At least twice I needed bombs but had none, nor space to carry them even if I did, which was a pain.

I’m on a boat!

Also a pain is how the spirits you can summon can only be summoned by “shooting” specific things. For the fire spirit, you have to shoot some fire, for example. Frequently, this is the basis of a puzzled and often that means either being psychic and triggering a summon when you can and bringing it along, or backtracking to where you’re able to trigger. Making use of the spirits is hit and miss too, especially when trying to get the fire one to light bonfires and torches (necessary to open doors or solve puzzles) as it wanders around with a mind of its own.

The final boss, who looks like Dark Force, is actually the easiest one in the entire game.

The bosses, as I said, are mostly pretty impressive. Several are as large as the screen, but most are very, very easy to beat. It’s actually swathes of minions which are the hard bits, and sometimes these appear to be infinitely regenerating and other times there’s just hundreds of them. There’s no way of telling if it’s necessary, or even possible, to defeat them all, and sometimes you need to for an important item to appear.

I’ve often seen The Story of Thor in lists of the best Mega Drive games, and I recently saw it in an article about “games for other systems that are similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past”, and it’s baffling that it’s in either of these. It’s nowhere near good, let alone “best”, and, a slight graphical nod aside, not really much like Zelda either. It’s not fit to lick Zelda’s boots.

And no, I don’t know why I played it to completion.

All the spirits leave you in the end. Oh, spoilers, I suppose.

Bonanza Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

I don’t think I’ve ever completed this before. But now I have.

It was actually a lot easier than I remember. Although there’s a level timer, the trick is to take your time and don’t panic. It’s only on the final level I came close to running out of time!

Civilization VI (Switch): COMPLETED!

Bingo bingo bongo, as the culturally insensitive song said.

After many attempts, I finally got a win. Civilization VI is much, much harder than the previous games on the series, and seemingly much slower too making a lose late on even more frustrating.

Having lost most of my games as a result of not developing science quickly enough or paying attention to rival religions, I chose Gilgamesh as my character who boosts the former and I set about augmenting it with plenty of holy sites. That, coupled with being lucky to not have any war-like opponents, meant I could rapidly develop stuff and then have plenty of faith with which to convert everyone. Victory!

I have to say, though, that as good as Civ VI is, it’s not as good as previous versions. I approve of the hexagonal titles implemented in V, but it feels like the changes to how you develop technology and stuff has been a step back – or a step in an unwanted direction at least. The slowness of the game is a downer after the speed of Civilization Revolution, and I feel I enjoyed II and IV a lot more at the time than I did VI now.

But, none of those are on the Switch, so I can make do!

Baba Is You (Switch): COMPLETED!

BABA IS WIN

Describing Baba Is You would take a while and since I’ve already done it in Episode 21 of the ugvm Podcast, I’m not going to duplicate it here. But I will say this: it’s a block pushing puzzle game where you change the rules.

It’s very clever. I mean, it’s very clever right from the off but as you progress through the levels and break and make rules of an ever more complex and bizarre nature, it becomes cleverer. Then, and I’m wary of spoilers, you realise there are levels within – and without – levels. And then all the rules change in a different way and it’s cleverer still.

GRASS IS SHUT is not your usual game rule.

Like the best puzzle games, not only is it clever, but it makes you feel clever when you beat a level. Should you manage to beat it in a way which appears to subvert what you perceive to be the “correct” way, then your head swells immensely and you feel a warm fuzzy glow of smugness. Unfortunately, all too often a level leaves you with just one or two options neither of which achieve anything and suddenly you’re just some thick gamer who has no idea how to play any more because the game is clearly impossible.

And that’s fine because you pass on that level for a while, come back later, and realise a trick you’d missed.

The rules changed.

Baba Is You is a very good, very special game indeed.

Phantasy Star IV (Switch): COMPLETED!

Final Phantasy.

And that’s them all. No, for the last time, the Online games don’t count. They never counted. They’re not Phantasy Star games and never will be.

Phantasy Star IV fits into the series somewhere after II but likely before III. As you play, it feels much more like II than any of the others, but throughout the game other games are referenced in a way that makes it seem like a final chapter. Of course, that’s what it ended up becoming but at the time I was ever hopeful for a Phantasy Star V. I still am.

These references are pretty big too. Spoilers, sorry: Mother Brain, from PSII, is still about and again isn’t working. There’s a cave with what is almost certainly Myau (called “The Old Man”) inside. A crashed ship like PSIII’s Alisa III is discovered. A Wren-type android, again from PSIII, becomes part of your team, as does a character who is essentially Noah/Lutz from PSI and PSII and a friendly biomonster not unlike Nei from PSII. The Ice Digger and Landrover from previous games returns. People have been turned to stone just like Odin did in PSI, and many place names and baddies return. Having played through the first three games so recently all these characters, locations and lore are still in memory and it was a joy to link things up as I progressed through the story.

Why this looks familiar.

As for the game itself, it looks a lot more like PSII only highly polished with the best graphics in the series. A few changes, which would perhaps be called “quality of life improvements” these days have been added – you walk a lot faster, you can assign macros (so you can set a sequence of battle actions to a menu option instead of choosing who will do what every time), and characters all share an inventory again. Having separate pockets in Phantasy Star III was a bit of a step back, and PSIV improves it further by removing equipped items from the inventory freeing up space and meaning you don’t need to scroll past them each time you need a dimate.

A couple of new things are added to the game too, the first being Skills. In essence, they’re the same sort of thing as Techniques, but they differ in that instead of having a shared “pot” of TP to use on them, each Skill has a fixed number of uses until you rest at an inn. The maximum uses increase as you level up, however.

Not sure where Wren physically installs this item but it gives him a new Skill.

Speaking of inns, another change is that resting at an inn doesn’t save your game! Don’t make the mistake I remember making when I first played this when it originally came out, getting five or so hours in, “saving” at an inn, then turning it off. Instead, saving is a menu option and can be used any time you’re not in a dungeon or a battle.

Finally, there are combos. Certain combinations of attacks, skills and techniques when triggered in succession fire off a massively damaging special combo attack. Most are tricky to rely on (characters don’t always attack in the order necessary, so it doesn’t always work), but they can be very useful. Most aren’t possible until very late in the game, however.

Phantasy Star IV is a fantastic RPG. Being sentimental to the series PSIII will always be my favourite, but I can see that in terms of scope, graphics, the way it ties all the previous games together, mechanics and fun, PSIV is undeniably better. It gave me around 25 hours (like II and III I “walked” in fast forward so it’s probably longer than that) of the best JRPG experience there is. You can keep your Final Fantasy. I just wish I had a PSV to move on to next 1.

Notes:

  1. I’m aware of a Japan-only mobile game which for some definitions is essentially Phantasy Star V but I’m sceptical, and it’s mobile only.

Saboteur! (Switch): COMPLETED!

That’s “Saboteur!” not “The Saboteur”.

I was never not going to get this, as a fan of the original Spectrum game, but I’d seen a lot of reviews and forum comments saying it was overpriced for a simple port of the Spectrum original. Sure, it had new music and sound, but £6 for a Spectrum game (and a very short Spectrum game at that) did sound a bit much, so I waited for a sale. 94p (free, actually, due to Nintendo Gold Coins) and I was in.

And everyone was wrong. What nowhere I’d seen actually mentioned at the time was that once you’d completed the five minute long original game, but a whole new hour long section opens up. New items to find in new locations, new enemy types, puzzles, tasks and tricky platforming sections. That was a big surprise. Imagine avoiding Donkey Kong on the Game Boy because you thought it was only the four arcade levels!

This bit has fewer and fewer platforms the higher the difficulty level.

Despite being new, it still looks and plays exactly like the original. There’s Spectrum colour clash, there’s the same colour palette, and it’s not as smooth or precise as a modern game. It absolutely doesn’t matter, however. What has changed, besides the length, is mainly sound based. Some more realistic thumps and gunshots, and a great soundtrack that fits perfectly. OK, it’s no BEEPer, but the upgrade still works here.

Hope there’s no leaves on the track.

There’s a concession to modern multi-button controllers too. On the Spectrum, the joystick would move and fire would pick up and drop objects, interact, and punch. Up would be go up ladders, jump, jump-kick, and long jumps would be a tricky diagonal. On the Switch, there’s a jump button now which makes things a lot easier, but Up still performs the same functions. Sometimes this means climbing a ladder is frustrating, or you might nudge up, and therefore jump, by mistake. The latter is especially compounded due to the game’s insistence on only allowing use of the analogue stick rather than the d-pad. The original wasn’t analogue, and neither is this, so it feels slightly inaccurate and out of place. That’s the only major flaw I can find though.

Naturally, this relic of a game isn’t for everyone. It’s no Hollow Knight or The Messenger, as it wears it’s origins proudly without much modern modification. It is, however, still a lot of fun and just shows how old games can still work now. In this way it has much in common with Castlevania: Spectral Invasion, only this is on the Switch instead of the original machine. Just don’t let the reviews of “it’s just a port” put you off like it did me: it’s not.

One of the (extensive) new areas.

Deltarune: Chapter 1 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Hugs?

Deltarune is the follow up to Undertale, that underwhelming RPG from a few years back that ended up with a huge following. It baffles me that so many people revere Undertale as it was so flawed. Entertaining, yeah, interesting, probably. Great? Absolutely not.

So you might be wondering why I’m playing Deltarune at all, let alone to completion. And the only answer I have, is that this chapter was free and, well, maybe it’s better?

And it is better. Not a lot better, and aside from new characters and a three person party, it’s really just more of the same. Sure, it has better background graphics and a slightly less guessworky “act” system in battles, but it’s just more Undertale with the same weird for the sake of weird humour and the quirky but rubbish characters and dialogue. It’s no more fun, deep or playable.

If it ain’t broke and all that, and clearly I’m in the minority thinking it was broke, but I was hoping for improvements in the places that mattered to me. Still, it was free and if wasn’t terrible at all – just not for me, same as the last game. If you loved Undertale, you’ll probably love this too.

Phantasy Star III (Switch): COMPLETED!

Let me three your phantasy.

I wasn’t going to move onto Phantasy Star III so soon after Phantasy Star II, but there it was on the Sega Mega Drive Classics menu, winking at me, so I didn’t really have a choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, Phantasy Star III was my first JRPG. It’s still my favourite, and although Phantasy Star IV is probably technically better, it’s III that I have more fondness for. Back in the day I completed it many times. The first time, it took from Christmas to August, but after a few more I could do it in a single 24 hour sitting. This is the first time I’ve completed it in probably two decades, and it took perhaps 15 hours, but there’s a reason for that: I played most of the walking and some of the fighting on Fast Forward (an option in the Mega Drive Classics). If there’s one thing that hasn’t aged well in RPGs, it’s how slow you move.

Gianticorn and Wolfsnail was a short lived kid’s cartoon in the 1990s.

Surprisingly, I still knew almost all of what I needed to do in the game. Even the routes through some of the dungeons was still etched in my brain. I also found the game much, much easier than I ever remember it being, with much less grinding too. I seem to recall always needing to level most of my party up to around level 55 for the final dungeon and boss, but here I walked it at around level 48. Maybe I’m just better now.

For those interested, the characters I played as (the game spans three generations with a slightly different story depending who you marry at the end of each) were Rhys, who married Maia and had a son, Ayn, who married Thea and had a son Sean.

Now, do I start IV or do something else first?

Kirby’s Adventure (Switch): COMPLETED!

Kirby Your Enthusiasm

There’s no way it has been nearly six years since I last completed this, surely? That’s absurd. I’m sure I complete it every few months. The Diary, however, Cannot Lie.

Yes, it’s easy. Yes, I had 45 lives left at the end. And no, I haven’t 100%ed it because I need to go back and find a few secret buttons. But Kirby is always fun to play. And being essentially “free” as one of the NES games that comes with the Switch online service, that makes it even better.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (Switch): COMPLETED!

Half-Genie, Half-Dressed

I do like a good platformer with blue skies and fun gimmicks. Which is why I’ve enjoyed all the other Shantae games in the series. Half-Genie Hero is, essentially, more of the same – but it streamlines things, ramps up the gorgeousness of the graphics, and is a bit easier.

The last of these points has been the most obvious change through the series. The first Shantae game, on the Game Boy was incredibly difficult, whereas Half-Genie Hero is a complete walkover. Well, apart from one bit right near the end when it becomes Flappy Bird for some reason.

I’m a tiny flopping blobfish

Streamlining means no arduous back and forth to get to each world (you simply fly there), or to get through each world (if you have the right item, you can warp from section to section). Dances, in order to transform into other creatures, is much simplified too, so doing so is much quicker and less fiddly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Shantae game without all the same characters, very similar level themes, and most of the bosses from previous games once more. It doesn’t really matter because it’s still all new to play. There are a number of new transformations too, giving new ways to access areas. One of these, the mouse, makes what you previously thought was just platform design into an actual maze, which blows your mind when you realise.

Up on the roof

Importantly, it plays fantastically and is never (well, Flappy Bird aside, perhaps) anything less than the best fun. So much fun that after completing it I immediately went back into the game to collect all the items I’d been missing in order to get 100%. And then, I tried out a few of the extra game modes.

These modes are mostly the same, playing as arcady versions of the main levels only with different skills for Shantae. In Beach Mode, she has a beach ball weapon but needs to collect suncream constantly or she burns up. In Jammies Mode, she attacks with sheep and takes more damage, and in another mode she plays like the character from Mighty Switch Force, and so on. There’s also a mode where you play slightly remixed versions of the levels only instead of playing as Shantae (it takes place during part of the main game) you’re swapping between Sky, Rottytops and Bolos who each have different skills. Basically, there’s still loads to play.

Which is just as well as there aren’t any Shantae games left for me to play now.

Into the Breach (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’m not sure following Mario + Rabbids with another, but totally different, turn based strategy game was necessarily the best way to get started with Into the Breach. For starters, moves are done in the opposite order (baddies first) and baddie attacks are “locked” in that they’ll still attack the same direction and number of spaces away even when moved during your turn. This is a core gameplay mechanic, and is pretty clever, as you can force them to fire upon their own side, or on your units instead of the buildings you’re protecting.

Maps are tiny, you can’t fire then move (in Mario + Rabbids you can do it in either order), levels are randomly generated, and it was very confusing. That’s not a problem with the game, however!

Levels also have a number of optional objectives for more bonuses.

Something I did have an issue with which is down to the game, however, is the time travelling gimmick. If you die, or as I found when accidentally choosing the “restart timeline” option when looking for a “restart level” (which doesn’t exist), you start the entire game again. From the start. One of your three mech pilots is sent back in time, along with a little of their experience so they’re slightly better than when you actually started the game, but everything else is reset.

I realise that’s mostly the point of the game, being a TBS with a roguelike element, but it doesn’t work for me. Let me take more of my skills or unlocked stuff back, or genuinely restart the game again. As it is, it’s almost completely pointless.

That aside, the gameplay is great and I did enjoy it. It’s just my own fault I played it when I did as I found it harder than I would have if I’d not being getting constantly confused with Mario + Rabbids rules!

Environmental effects, like lava, tidal waves and earthquakes affect both you and your enemies.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Switch): COMPLETED!

No, I didn’t think a crossover between the worlds of Mario and the Rabbids would work either, but somehow, it does. Perhaps it’s partly because the gameplay doesn’t borrow from either party, and Mario + Rabbids becomes its own thing. Instead of precision platforming or nonsensical minigames, this game provides a fun turn based strategy game interspersed with some puzzles (mainly of the switch pressing or block pushing variety).

It’s not quite Xcom or Ubisoft’s earlier Nintendo title Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (which was excellent), as it takes that gameplay but twists it. As well as moving your units (a collection of Mushroom Kingdom regulars and Rabbid-ised versions of Mushroom Kingdom regulars), each move you can perform sliding tackles, jumps (which can let you move further, heal status effects, and allow stomp attacks). There’s also two special powers each character has that have cooldown timers and can be triggered in addition to moving and attacking. These vary from defensive shields to attack boosts, to “movement sensors”, where when an enemy moves either during their turn or as a side-effect of another attack, your character gets a free shot.

Each character is different too, with different move limits, skills like being able to jump on two heads in succession, able to slide tackle up to three enemies per move, and weapons. Some weapons have a “damage cone” whereby the further away from the source you go, the wider the blast goes but the less damage it does. Some weapons can destroy cover blocks, and others fire over blocks, set fire to characters, or stop them from attacking, moving or using special skills.

Then there’s environmental stuff to take into account. Some levels have raised areas that give you an attack bonus if you’re shooting lower-down enemies. Pipes let you travel to other parts of the area and add a bonus set of movement spaces when you emerge – some levels you can zip around really quickly as a result. On other levels, lava rains down on certain spots every so often, and sometimes hidden in cover blocks are crates that, when hit, cause negative status effects on anyone stood next to them.

What they don’t realise is I’m about to kill them all in one hit.

There’s a lot to take in, and considering the blue skies and silliness that coats Mario + Rabbids, there’s a surprising amount of strategy. Having to take into account how some enemies react to attacks, or can only be damaged from behind, or will take advantage of your three team members being bunched up together, plus there’s needing to remember that your shots could damage your own team (particularly important when setting up for a “movement sensor” attack) and how some enemies can heal or teleport.

That said, it isn’t especially difficult. Apart from having to try again, you lose nothing for failing a mission. You’re given bonus awards if all three of your chosen team remain alive at the end (after which they’re revived anyway) and if you’ve won in under a certain number of moves, but again, there’s no major penalty for not managing this besides getting fewer coins with which to buy better weapons. Coins are everywhere, however, so you won’t go short.

It’s a block-pushing, switch hitting puzzle section!

Outside of the main levels, you explore each of the four worlds and solve little puzzles, look behind scenery, and so on in order to get more coins, unlockable art and music, and – most importantly – skill upgrade tokens. Yes, each character has a skill tree, and these skill tokens are spent adding movement distance, damage, HP and skill cooldown timer buffs.

Skill tree.

Mario + Rabbids is a great looking, ridiculous concept which is far more fun than it deserves to be. It’s addictive, and although it’s easy there are loads of challenges that open up as you play with additional harder ones once you’ve finished. And even the Rabbids somehow fit.

Membrane (Switch): COMPLETED!

Membrane is an unusual platform puzzle game, where your controls are jump, shoot blocks, and shoot triangles. You can use the blocks, which stick together, to build bridges, act as conduit between electrical pads, become walls, barriers, ladders and so on. The triangles “break” these blocks and revert them to non-sticky blocks that you can collect back up – useful, since you’ve a limited amount.

The plot, such that it is, is you’re a sort of synapse in a body. A message from the eye, which has seen a fly land on you, along each level through the chest, arm and to the hand which you ultimately trigger to swat it. Of course, this has little relevance to the actual gameplay aside from body goo which appears in some levels.

Although it’s a pretty short game, Membrane is pretty taxing, especially if you’re aiming to collect the two orange ball things in each level. Invariably they’re placed in such a way as to vastly complicate the solution, or are dangerously close to a hazard. I haven’t managed to obtain all of them, but I’m just over 90% there. It seems they’re unnecessary to complete the game but I suspect there’s a different ending or some sort of bonus for nabbing the lot.

Speaking of bonuses, there are a couple of extra game modes. One requires you to set up a sort of slingshot with which to launch a ball as far as possible, and the other is a target practice type game where you have to carefully plan your shot rebounds in order to hit an increasingly hard to reach object.

Membrane is cheap, interesting, varied and different enough to most other games to definitely warrant a purchase. I certainly enjoyed it, but perhaps a few more levels would have been nice.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate: COMPLETED! (Switch)

It’s 2019, and the first game to be completed this year is Super Smash Bros. And by complete, I mean, the MASSIVE new single player mode – “World of Light”. In brief, this mode is a huge map with lots of fight events on it. Some are simple one-on-one brawls, some have quirks like gravity that randomly flips or after a few seconds one hit kills you, and others have a number of unusual fighters such as an army of mini Donkey Kongs or a giant metal Mario.

You can read more about how it all works, and the whole spirit system, in more detail elsewhere, but for the entire game I just stuck with Kirby, rarely had a difficult fight, and then got what appears to be the best ending. Well, OK. For the very final actual battle you have to choose three fighters and they can’t all be Kirby. I chose Sonic and Roy (as Roy was the best character in Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Gamecube), but Sonic is awful so I swapped him for the more Roy-like Marth and was much more successful then.

And it is an incredible game. So much to do, so many different fights, so many spirits to collect and power up – and I haven’t really even touched standard “Smash” mode, and I’ve only played online once (as Kirby: I won). Yet 30 hours of World of Light is more than enough for one game – all these other modes and extras are just bonuses, as far as I’m concerned.

Yeah, I’m saying that, just like with that other “online competitive game” Splatoon 2, single player is the best bit.